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9/11 Doesn’t Justify Today’s Wars

In a late-June session of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) successfully added an amendment [1] to a Defense Appropriations Bill that would repeal the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF).

[Update, 7/19: Rep. Lee Tweeted [2]Wednesday morning that Speaker Ryan had essentially stripped her AUMF amendment from the final defense bill  “in the dead of the night” Tuesday.]

The passage of this amendment sent a positive signal that America’s war-making capabilities will finally be the subject of a debate, at least on the House floor. On July 12, Lee even met with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan to discuss the matter. Unfortunately, it appears that Lee’s amendment is being threatened by [3] Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who has offered up a replacement bill that, instead of repealing the 2001 AUMF, would ask Congress to clarify war powers and goals.

[4]Unsurprisingly, Lee is not satisfied with that slight improvement. Lee has objected to its powers since 2001, when the AUMF was first passed four days after the terrorist attacks of September 11. The original vote gave the president [5] wide latitude to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” that he determined were responsible for 9/11. It passed with remarkable speed, and there were no committee hearings. Lee was the only member of either chamber of Congress to vote against the bill.

Sixteen years of interventionist foreign-policy decisions have stretched this authorization to encompass any and all uses of military force broadly connected to the War on Terror, including actions against “associated groups” related to the 9/11 terrorists. The AUMF was used [1] to justify the invasion of Iraq (though that invasion received its own resolution), even though there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda or 9/11. Every one of the recent drone wars [6] in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia was “authorized” by the legislation. The AUMF is the backbone of U.S. actions in Syria against the Islamic State (beyond, that is, the evergreen assertions of executive power). Special Operations forces have entered [7] 70 percent of the world’s countries so far this year. As investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill noted in the subtitle of his best-selling book Dirty Wars [8], the world is indeed a battlefield, and the 2001 AUMF gets a lot of the credit for that making that a reality.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (and their legal teams) have interpreted the AUMF as broadly as possible. Obama, always playing the magnanimous leader, asked Congress for new powers to fight ISIS in 2014. However, he was already using the AUMF [9] and the War Powers Resolution to justify the interventions the U.S. had already begun. His new powers, then, would merely have been stacked upon the old. Congress was too lackluster to actually force a war vote, anyway, so the issue remained as theoretical as every executive violation of the War Powers Resolution.

And even some experts are willing to let that slog continue. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis emphasized this attitude in recent comments to NATO, saying [10] “I don’t put timelines on wars. It’s that simple…You can’t say, ‘Well, I got tired of it, so I’m going to come home’ and then wonder why you get hit again.” But as Micah Zenko [11] and Amelia Wolf [12], senior fellow and research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argue [13], the idea that terrorist safe havens—which can only be crushed militarily—lead to successful attacks is an exaggeration repeated by the last several presidential administrations. War drums are easy to beat. Cleaning up your intelligence community after it missed 20 chances [14] to stop the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, is a lot more difficult. And the erroneous idea that the U.S. is actually able to wipe every single terrorist enclave from the earth is the best excuse for a series of wars that, by definition, never end.

The AUMF needs to be replaced by legislation that is much narrower and more focused in its scope, while reasserting Congress’s role in war-making. Yet who in government could be depended upon to write and enforce such a constrained set of guidelines? Whatever AUMF replaces the current one, a determined president and an obsequious Congress can always find a way to get to war, and to stay there, if they wish.

Though repealing the AUMF wouldn’t solve all of America’s foreign policy problems, we may not even get far enough for a debate. The Republican Party still has a sizable majority in the House—and the measure would need 48 Republican representatives (to say nothing of Democrats from conservative districts) to go against their party and the White House in order to move a bill on to the Senate. Ryan and Cole’s compromise bill might get somewhere, but Lee’s attempt to sweep the whole AUMF into the trash is not likely to make it very far.

It is a positive sign, though, that the political winds are at last shifting in a direction where we can begin to seriously question how we approach the use of military force. The Afghanistan War had an unfavorable rating [15] of 78 percent in 2016. An American soldier killed there [16] on July 3 was 19 years old—meaning he wasn’t old enough for kindergarten when the war began. We shouldn’t wait for another generation to deploy to a foreign desert before we begin asking when enough is enough.

Jerrod A. Laber is a non-profit program director living in Northern Virginia. He is a Young Voices Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @jerrodlaber. Lucy Steigerwald is a journalist and an editor at Young Voices. Follower her on Twitter: @lucystag

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "9/11 Doesn’t Justify Today’s Wars"

#1 Comment By GeorgyOrwell On July 19, 2017 @ 7:47 am

Oh pleeeeeezzzeeeee

9/11 was an inside job!!!!!!

#2 Comment By connecticut farmer On July 19, 2017 @ 9:20 am

In a word: Bravo!!!

#3 Comment By Dan Green On July 19, 2017 @ 9:20 am

The reality of so called war is, the last war we won was WW 2. We market sticking our nose in conflicts, to protect our interest, never with the objective of winning. Our adversaries understand we get involved eventually tire of conflict and caskets coming home draped in the flag, pack up and leave. Does anyone seriously believe Putin thinks we will defend eastern Europe? The Chinese Reds full well understand time is on their side before they give NK the go ahead to strike our underbelly then turn to the useless UN for blabber.

#4 Comment By FreeOregon On July 19, 2017 @ 10:40 am

You’re asking for another CIA / Mossad false flag to keep the MIC funded?

#5 Comment By Cynthia McLean On July 19, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

Good article. It is time overdue that Americans wrestle with the country’s war machine. Most folks are most concerned with domestic, personal issues, like healthcare and jobs. Think of the $$ that could be freed up for infrastructure, housing, education etc if the so-called Defense budget were cut by a mere 10%. 9/11 is a gift that keeps on giving for the war profiteers. Barbara Lee is right on target with her amendment, too bad the Democrats are as hawkish as the Republicans and rely on campaign donations from the military supply corporations.

#6 Comment By Peter Bargmann On July 19, 2017 @ 3:46 pm

Trump has the football. But there is doubt as to his capacity for playing the game. Particularly with DPRK, much less in Iran’s and Pakistan’s back yards.

#7 Comment By Whine Merchant On July 19, 2017 @ 7:01 pm

“9/11 Doesn’t Justify Today’s Wars”

Wrong! 9/11 justifies anything that will get a politician re-elected.

#8 Comment By Lee On July 20, 2017 @ 12:01 am

9/11 didn’t even justify yesterday’s wars…

#9 Comment By MEOW On July 20, 2017 @ 7:14 am

Let us keep this dialog going. Many Americans like myself want to desperately believe the government’s 9/11 story. Yet many of our fellow citizens are casting serious doubt on the official story. Who benefited? Has the massive reaction been cost effective for the U.S.? I would suspect No! What has happened to our democracy in the meantime? We are fed a lot of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out. There are just too many unanswered questions out there to continue without us hitting the pause button. Trump is not change. Just more of the same cabal in an irate and bellicose manner. As us old timers fade away, we long for the spirit and independence of JFK, Ike, Jerry Ford, and even Jimmy C. Tricky Dick was a cut above the current crop of managers and we never questioned his prime loyalty to America.

#10 Comment By Syed Zaidi On July 20, 2017 @ 7:59 am

Comments 1 and 4 are rather brave of you. I look forward to these obvious truths getting reflected in your editorial policy. If the incontestable truth can’t make it to the foreground, why bother?

#11 Comment By balderdash On July 20, 2017 @ 9:57 am

Bushco might not have foreseen that America would be looking at a 20 , or 30 or 40 year war over 9/11 about flowery welcomes and cakewalks – at least about chapter 2. Such thins like protracted wars have happened before but they were punctuated by farming seasons and break-outs of peace, this one is a grind: a daily, expanding, non-productive, occasionally-unsettling, long-distance, security-draining, very expensive grind.

America is only able to ‘stand it’ because we’re doing to them what we hope they could never do back to us. God only knows how they can.

#12 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 20, 2017 @ 12:23 pm

“The Afghanistan War had an unfavorable rating of 78 percent in 2016. An American soldier killed there on July 3 was 19 years old—meaning he wasn’t old enough for kindergarten when the war began.”

There was never a reason to engage this effort as an invasion. As noted previously, we have made promises. We have enlisted entire communities into a bid for democracy. Trying to unentangle ourselves from those commitments is going to be a heavy chore. I have to be honest and admit that is no easy fare. In Iraq, we have made a commitment to the Kurds as foolish as it might have been, it’s no easy task to abandon the effort out right without being responsible for the consequence. I for one am deeply concerned about our role in the Ukraine. We encouraged an unnecessary revolution, the Europeans had no intention of backing if things went south. As it turned out things went south.

These are the dynamics that we live with. And interventionists know it. But in the end US interests come first.

Pres Adams has never given his due for beating back Pres Thomas Jeffereson and company agitating a needless war. The best we can do in these conditions is ensure some manner of peaceful safe haven, guaranteeing that there will be no reprisals (tough slog there as reprisals can take many shapes.

#13 Comment By Dan Stewart On July 21, 2017 @ 8:09 am

Americans love militarism and war. It’s at the heart of our culture, our values and our national identity.

It’s no coincidence that the United States has had more wars and killed more people on foreign soil than any other nation in the post-WWII era. 

No person reading this comment will live to see the day when the United States is not at war somewhere in the world.